The Most #RealTalk Before-and-After Photos

Transformation photos are taking over the internet, and we mean more than the usual #tbt pics. People are showing off their hard-earned gym bods, and for good reason. Healthy habits are something to celebrate! While they’re all highlighting efforts of becoming a better balanced individual, some have opened up about what their photo really means. For many, the viewer only sees what’s on the outside—a woman transforming from an unhealthy weight to a toned physique—but recently people have been getting a little more real.

The photo doesn’t always tell the full story. Not all transformations show that big-to-buff image. For some, it’s the opposite. And that’s OK. It may applaud one girl’s battle of overcoming an eating disorder, or another’s changing body after giving birth, or simply the huge effects of posing and lighting angles. Basically, as we’ve all heard before, a photo isn’t always what we see. It holds a story, a longer explanation, a clarification within the pixels.

Behind the images of these women’s photos is a triumphant victory of many sorts. Not everyone is fighting the same battle. Not everyone shares the same win. And that’s something the celebrate.

Wise words from her dad kept her on track

Everyone has an embarrassing photo on social media, but for Jordan Kohanim, what should have been an exciting post about winning the teacher of the year award caused her to rethink her health decisions. The language arts and debate teacher from Atlanta told the Today show she was mortified about how unhealthy she looked. That pic sparked a change in her exercise and eating habits. Her dad encouraged her to go to the gym for just 15 minutes at first, which eventually grew into 60-minute sessions five days a week. In two years, the 38-year-old lost 70 pounds and now encourages others to reach out to their network whenever they get frustrated on their own weight loss journey.

A doctor’s many pleads led to a big change

For years, Helen Costa-Giles’s doctor cautioned that she was tipping into the morbidly obese category. After one appointment, she decided to make a change—throwing out all of the processed food in her home, prepping her meals, and incorporating HIIT and weightlifting into her daily routine. “I basically came down from the doctor’s that day and I had my paperwork, and I slammed it down on the kitchen counter and said, ‘That’s it. We’re done. No more yo-yo dieting, no more fads,’” she remembers. Since 2014, the 38-year-old has lost 90 pounds, and the complete lifestyle change has even allowed her husband to drop 60 pounds.

A reverse before-after is just as inspiring

A before-and-after fitness photo doesn’t always have to advertise losing loads of weight. In the case of blogger Megan Jayne Crabbe, it celebrates a healthy body. The 23-year-old has struggled with eating disorders and body image issues throughout the years, so a recent photo she posted showed what we don’t often see—someone whose “before” photo shows a thinner figure than the “after” image. The difference, Crabbe wrote, is her happy body. It shows what she overcame to feel good about herself and also serves as a reminder that a scale can’t determine a person’s health.

The biggest transformations happen on the inside

Fitness influencer Anna Victoria has pointed out on past Insta posts what posing and angles can do to enhance a person’s photo. She encourages her followers to take everything seen on the social platform with a grain of salt, and in April, she opened up about what her own transformation means. Yes, she’s gained rock-hard abs, but she wrote that she’s made a conscious effort to not let fitness overcome her decisions and to just live life. “While I’m happy with the physical changes I’ve worked so hard for, they don’t compare to the non-physical changes that aren’t visible to the naked eye,” she shared. “I don’t work out to punish myself for eating ice cream, and I don’t restrict myself if I feel I want to relax a bit.” Preach!

Celebrate every victory—no matter the size

After giving birth to her second child, Dani Guy found it took longer to shed the postpartum weight, and she started to get down about the slow progress. But she quickly stopped herself, realizing how silly the thoughts were. The mom of two wrote, “I should be jumping for joy at all the hard work I am putting in, all the progress I have made and how f*cking great I feel. I shouldn’t be upset just because it’s taking a bit slower.” So whether you’re trying to get back in shape, are recovering from pregnancy, or just trying to get to the gym more than once every two weeks, give yourself a pat on the back. Every effort deserves some appreciation

Forget what you told yourself as a teen

Life coach Rachel Spencer posted a side-by-side photo of her as a 13-year-old and her now. The left image showed her poolside donning braces and a swimsuit folding her arms over her stomach. The right image shows her as an adult confidently baring her bod. She asked her Instagram followers: “Who taught the young girl on the left to hide her tummy before taking pictures in a swimsuit?” Spencer was sad to see her young self influenced by society’s attitude towards women’s bodies but happily acknowledge how far she had come in ignoring the whispers about having to be a certain shape. She wrote on her Insta feed, “Your imperfections tell a story. Your body is beautiful. You are BEAUTIFUL.”

Emily is a recent graduate and proud Midwesterner who just moved to the big city to start her career in magazine journalism. When she isn't commuting between Brooklyn and Manhattan, she enjoys browsing bookstores for her next read, sipping chai tea lattes at local coffee shops, and playing tourist in the city she always dreamed of living in.